Where Is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad?
The whereabouts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are unknown. He hasn’t made a public or televised appearance since rebels attacked a government building in the capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing three top officials including the defense minister.
Syrian state TV showed Assad swearing in a new defense minister on Thursday, but the report did not indicate where they were, according to the Associated Press.
There’s some speculation that Assad went to the city of Latakia, an Alawite-populated area on the coast, after the bombing in Damascus.
“There are indications that the regime is preparing a space they can occupy around Latakia,” Steven Heydemann, senior adviser for Middle East initiatives at the U.S. Institute of Peace, told us on Wednesday. “There has been violence that seems to be aimed at clearing villages of Sunni populate.”
Will Syria Use Chemical Weapons?
U.S. officials have expressed concerns that the Syrian might use chemical weapons in its battle against armed opposition forces. Some defectors have said the regime considers it an option if backed into a corner.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said Thursday that Syria would be held accountable if it did use chemical or biological weapons.
“Any use or transfer of chemical weapons would result in those responsible being held accountable,” she said. “We’ve repeatedly said it’s the responsibility of the government to secure its stock piles and that continues to be the case.”
But some analysts are saying it’s unlikely Syria would use chemical weapons for fear it would trigger intervention by the international community. “That is such an egregious action, and they have been warned,” said Leonard Spector, deputy director of the Monterey Institute of International Studies’ James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
The Monterey Institute of International Studies plotted possible chemical production and storage facilities (click on map for a larger version):
Where Do Things Stand Diplomatically?
An attempt in the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria to halt the fighting failed Thursday when Russia and China vetoed the resolution. They blocked two previous resolutions that blamed the Assad government for the bloodshed.
Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said the latest resolution was “biased” because it threatened sanctions on the Syrian government and would do nothing to stop the armed opposition movement, reported the Washington Post.
UK Ambassador to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice vote in favor of the resolution. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.
The mandate for the U.N. observer mission in Syria expires Friday, and the council is considering a 30-day extension proposed by the UK.
Following the veto of the resolution on sanctions, Rice tweeted:
U.S. has not / will not pin its policy on unarmed observer mission deployed in midst of violence that can’t count on minimal #UNSC support.
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) July 19, 2012
The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.